The internet is buzzing with the news of Ideo, an innovation agency, firing big chunk of its staff. Last year Adidas fired one of their celebrity innovators – Ye. Both of these events are important symptoms of how innovation is changing.
Back in the good old days of the 80s and 90s, when mass media was one-to-many TV, radio, print, companies decided to outsource innovation. There were masses of agencies and individuals claiming to know exactly what customers want, ready to cash in on the belief that innovation can be outsourced. This worked because mass media sold it to “the masses”. This system allowed companies to control the market by claiming these agencies and individuals are geniuses who know what customers want.
Fast forward to today’s post social media society where customers expect to be heard. In such a market paying an outside guru to come up with an innovation and then selling it with tons of PR and advertising does not work. Simple truth is: if billions of people can like images on Facebook, so can companies listen to their customers.
Innovation agencies and individuals that sold themselves as holy grails of know-it-all started slowly disappearing. Ideo is one of the lingering dinosaurs – an agency which sold itself as a reader of customer minds (a hint – if an agency is using post-its they are not the future, they are the past). Ye is another example of a narrative that innovation geniuses who can tell a company like Adidas what to do for the customers. Both Ideo and Ye have failed.
So what can companies do if not hire someone else to innovate for them?
Companies should innovate by themselves. They should have their own unique processes that deliver consistent innovation for the customers. And open innovation is at the core of that strategy. Customers today want deeper relationships with brands but not for the purpose of wasting time on social media, but in hope to actually get better products, better services, something that makes their life immediately better. Customers know what they need but were pushed aside by “innovation gurus” who are easier to control by companies.
But in the future the only way to gain any control is to do what customers want. To listen to customers, to respect them, to pay them for their work, and to give them the products they want. It is not possible to convince and control customers by inventing Ideo or Ye as one-in-a-billion geniuses who can speak for the customers when companies can easily speak to customers directly.
All companies will have to learn the lost art of listening to customers. This trend is unstoppable.